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Paul Arizin

Paul Arizin, the cowlicked, asthmatic South Philadelphia native who wasn't good enough to make his high school team yet transformed himself into an NBA legend, died Tuesday night at 78.

Mr. Arizin's Hall of Fame career, which included an 85-point performance at Villanova plus 10 all-star appearances, two scoring titles and an NBA crown with the Warriors, took place entirely in the Philadelphia area.

When owner Eddie Gottlieb moved the Warriors to San Francisco after the 1961-62 season, Mr. Arizin retired rather than relocate. But the 6-foot-4 forward's love of basketball persisted and he played several more seasons with the Camden Bullets of the semi-pro Eastern League.

He began his 10-year Warriors tenure alongside early NBA stars like Jumpin' Joe Fulks and Neil Johnston. When it ended, Mr. Arizin's teammates included several Philadelphia hoop greats - Wilt Chamberlain, Tom Gola and Guy Rodgers. Only Gola, who is in poor health in Florida, remains from that potent foursome.

In 1955-56, Mr. Arizin averaged 24.2 points a game in leading the Warriors to the NBA title. He was the young league's top scorer in 1951-52 (25.4 points per game) and 1956-57 (25.6 p.p.g).

The spry, lanky youngter from St. Monica's Parish took up the game relatively late. Playing alone or in intramural leagues in low-ceilinged gyms that often doubled as dance floors, he developed a tiny-arced, one-handed jump shot that was exceedingly rare in that pre-World War II era.

"It was strange how I developed that shot," he said in a 1998 interview. "Because they held dances in those gyms, the floors would be very slippery. I couldn't get feet set under me to try a hook shot, so I started shooting with my feet off the floor."

In his senior year at La Salle High, Mr. Arizin went out for the basketball team. Legendary Explorers coach Obie O'Brien, one of the winningest coaches in Catholic League history, told him he wasn't quite good enough.

After serving in the Marine Corps during World War II, Mr. Arizin enrolled at Villanova in 1946 to study chemistry. He didn't try out for the basketball team until his sophomore season. It wasn't long until everyone was wondering what took him so long.

His jump shot was an unstoppable weapon. He had great leaping ability, drove hard to the basket and was a dogged rebounder.

On the night of Feb. 12, 1949, in a game against the Naval Air Material center, he scored 85 points, still a record for a Philadelphia-area collegian, in a 117-25 victory.

Arizin scored 735 points as a senior, 5 off the national record, and averaged 25.3 points, the second highest ever posted at the time. Villanova went 25-4 and The Sporting News named him its College Player of the Year. Eventually, the school retired his No. 11.


Published on Philly.com on Dec. 13, 2006
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